Language matters. What we say–and how we say it–makes a significant impact on the quality of our students’ experience. After all, compare how frequently your students are hearing your words to how often they are seeing your demonstrations and receiving your instructions. Despite all the pressure students in teacher-training programs exert on themselves to be stronger, more flexible, and more adept at advanced postures, these qualities aren’t nearly as important to your students as your ability to communicate your intentions and instructions.
Last time we looked at common verbal pitfalls. This week we turn our attention to 5 simple ways to improve your verbal skills. Consider picking one or two of these practices to focus on in your classes this week.
Do you remember how confused you were when you first practiced yoga—figuring out which foot was your left, which leg was your right, and following the teacher in mirror image? There is no easier way to provide your students with clarity than by using obvious landmarks in the room (such as the windows, clock, alter, and so on) when you give instructions.
Think about teaching twists, for example. Your students’ bodies are so tied up, overlapped, and crisscrossed that their left is on their right and their right is on their left. So instead of saying, “Turn your torso to the right,” tell your students to “Rotate your torso toward the windows (or, whatever conspicuous landmark is to the right of your students).” Telling your students to face a landmark in the room instead of a cardinal direction will make a big impact on your students.
If your directions are clear and you provide enough space between each one, your students will be able to follow along. If, however, you give 15 instructions in a row with no breath or pause between, your students will be lost. Always provide time for your students to digest your words before blazing ahead.
Don’t tell your students everything you know about each pose. Some teachers, your author included, are tempted to fill every second of class with instruction, precaution, lore, personal revelation, and more. After all, there are few moments when we have a captive audience for an hour and a half.
But this is yoga class, not a storytelling seminar, so don’t overcrowd your students or compete with yourself. Stick to an average of three instructions per pose. You can use more instructions to get them into the pose, but once they in the asana be judicious. If these instructions are related to each other, richly descriptive, and relevant to the overall theme of the class, they will give your students plenty to work with while allowing them to have their own experience.
Use your student’s names
As a yoga student yourself, you are well aware that everyone spaces out in class once in a while. Truthfully, whose eyes don’t glaze over after 90 minutes of impersonal and generalized instructions? Make your teaching more skillful and intimate by using your students’ names. Instead of repeating the same tired instructions, look at your students, and help them clarify, expand, or deepen their poses by relating to them directly. Try saying, “Jeff, please bend your front knee more deeply” or “Lauren, relax your neck and soften your jaw.”
Personalizing instructions is not only a good way to take care of your students, it is the best way to make your communication direct and relevant. The added bonus is that everyone else in the room who needs to relax his or her neck will probably follow suit. Of course, you should use a soft, encouraging tone when you use names so that people don’t feel like they are being singled out or scolded.
Use direct command, images, analogies and stories (when appropriate)
Different students learn different ways. Also, different students resonate to different types of instruction. Some will hear you when you give straightforward, direct commands like “press the top of your femurs back.” Others will hear you more clearly when you provide an image or an analogy to articulate an instruction. Some students will only engage when you share a personal story that highlights a teaching. Don’t force yourself to use a style of language that doesn’t resonate with you, but do your best to vary your language and style of delivery so that more students can learn from you.
*Originally published on YogaGlo.com
About the author:
Jason Crandell, is a natural teacher and author with more than 15 years of experience. His accessible, grounded classes integrate the best elements of power yoga, anatomical precision and mindfulness teachings. With a “knack for teaching subtle body movements in a way that everyone can understand” (Yoga Journal), Jason’s articulate, down-to-earth teaching will educate and empower you. He is teaching a 40 Hour Training: “Power + Precision + Mindfulness June 30 – July 4, 2014 at Yoga Tree Mission.
Jason was named “one of the teachers shaping the future of yoga,” by Yoga Journal, Jason has been one of the most in-demand teachers at conferences around the world for over a decade. He is considered a “teachers-teacher,” and has taught on countless teacher-training faculties, leads trainings globally, and regularly presents teacher-training content at esteemed conferences. He also provides online training on Yogaglo.com.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal where he has published over 25 articles and created their original series of practice podcasts. Jason produced 4 full-length DVD’s with Yoga Journal and has partnered with Yogaglo to provide online classes. His critical-thinking skills will support you on your path of practicing and teaching.
Jason’s primary teacher is Rodney Yee—who was kind enough to say, “Jason is taking the art of teaching yoga to its next level.”